- MASS MoCA
Filling MASS MoCA’s largest gallery with a massive cascading wave — swooping curves of felt that will slowly change color throughout a ten-month exhibition cycle, Anya Gallaccio creates a new commission for MASS MoCA’s largest gallery, Building 5, referencing the built environment and the landscape surrounding the museum.
From 1860 to 1943, MASS MoCA’s buildings were home to Arnold Print Works, which dyed and printed textiles. One of the world’s leading producers, Arnold Print Works used Building 5 for dyeing and drying fabric. An adjacent building, now demolished, served as the indigo dye house. A naturally occurring dye extracted from plants, indigo is most popularly used to color blue jeans; however, in the late 1800s it began to be synthetically manufactured, a sometimes toxic process.
In 1850, about twenty miles south of North Adams, writer Herman Melville moved his family to Arrowhead farm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, offering a distant view of Mount Greylock, the state’s highest peak. To Melville, the gentle slope of the mountain resembled the hump of a whale and served as inspiration for Moby Dick (1851). In chapter LXVII, Melville writes with astonishment about the mass of the whale, asking “What and where is the skin of the whale?” trying to distinguish skin from blubber and alluding to the impossibility of fully comprehending a thing so big that you are always either on top of it, or enveloped by it.
Gallaccio’s wave will begin at the back of the two-story gallery, putting the viewers virtually on top of the mass, and gently undulate to the floor at the gallery entrance. Its form will create tunnels so that museum visitors can wander beneath the mass of material. Above this thick surface of white felt will be a system of plumbing, to release controlled amounts of indigo dye onto the material, as if inscribing wounds into the skin. The dye will saturate, run, and dry over the course of the exhibition — eventually turning the white felt from pale blue to almost black — transforming the material into a colossal color field painting, a rolling mountain landscape, or even the hump of a whale.
Gallaccio’s work explores the malleability and spatial qualities of natural materials such as stone, clay, obsidian, chocolate, and flowers. She chooses these elemental materials for their entropic properties; their fragility and tendency toward decay results in works in which change is visible over the course of a single exhibition. Formally, Gallaccio’s work references the lineage of American Minimalist artists including Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, and earthwork artists such as Robert Smithson, yet with a decidedly organic exploration of natural materials, restrained forms, and repetition.
Gallaccio’s exhibition reminds us that nature and industry are in constant dialogue, and that both — like the whale itself — are so formless that the ability to understand their totality is futile. The artist’s work is the skin of the whale, tracing history and the present through a constant state of becoming, growing until it fills space to its boundaries and beyond.
Abouth the Artist
Anya Gallaccio (b. 1963, Scotland; lives and works in San Diego, CA, and London, UK) studied at the Kingston Polytechnic College and the Goldsmiths, University of London, both in London. Gaining early international recognition with her participation in Damien Hirst’s Freeze exhibition, Surrey Docks, London (1988), she has had numerous solo exhibitions, including: Thomas Dane Gallery, London (2017), Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, CA (2015), Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY (2015), Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA (2014), Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, CA (2014), Artpace, San Antonio, TX (2013), Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam (2011), Camden Arts Centre, London (2008), SculptureCenter, New York, NY (2006), and Tate Britain, London (2002); and group shows at venues such as Bohusläns Museum, Uddevalla, Sweden (2016), Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL (2014), the FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY (2013), Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH (2012), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2011), and Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany (2009).
Gallaccio’s work is featured in the permanent collections of Tate Britain, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Seattle Art Museum, WA; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; and Arts Council England, among others. She recently completed permanent public commissions at Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh (2014); The Whitworth, the University of Manchester, England (2016); and The Contemporary Austin, TX (2017). In 2003, she was nominated for the Turner Prize of the Tate Britain, London, and in 2018 she will participate in the 21st Sydney Biennale, Australia. She is a Professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego.
All the rest is silence, 1999
Chappa silk, indigo dye, watercolor paper
Installed at Sadler’s Wells, London, UK
Courtesy of the artist